February 25, 2013
A new sexual health education policy, framed around age-appropriate instruction and medically accurate information for all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, will be presented to the Chicago Board of Education next week. The recommended policy would make CPS the largest urban U.S. school district with an established and comprehensive sexual health education curriculum specifically designed for every grade level to ensure age-appropriate material and with minimum instructional minutes for each grade across a broad scope of family and sexual health education topics for K-12 students.
“It is important that we provide students of all ages with accurate and appropriate information so they can make healthy choices in regards to their social interactions, behaviors, and relationships,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “By implementing a new sexual health education policy, we will be helping them to build a foundation of knowledge that can guide them not just in the pre-adolescent and adolescent years, but throughout their lives.”
The proposed policy would align with the new national standards and supports priorities in both President Obama’s national HIV/AIDS strategy and Mayor Emanuel’s Healthy Chicago initiative. It would replace the District’s older Family Life and Comprehensive Sexual Health Education policy, which was approved in 2008.
The proposed policy will set more modern standards for instruction of students from kindergarten through 12th grade and, for younger grades, will integrate aspects of family life education that were a part of the previous policy. The new policy will also establish a minimum number of instructional minutes and topic areas for all grades; previously, a standard was in place for fifth grade students only.
The proposed new policy breaks down instruction to conform to specific age groups. For K-4 students, instruction will center on anatomy and physiology, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety.
For example, younger students in this group will focus on the family, feelings and appropriate and inappropriate touching while students in fourth grade will learn about puberty, including the physical, social and emotional changes that accompany it, and the causes and transmission of HIV infection.
For older children in grades 5-12, instruction will include information appropriate for each grade level on human reproduction, transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), healthy decision-making, sexual orientation and bullying, and contraception, including abstinence.
Under the policy, principals will designate a minimum of two of their teachers to deliver sexual health education instruction in their schools. Those teachers would be trained to ensure that instruction follows District-wide standards and that the instructors themselves are proficient in the curriculum content and delivery.
The proposed policy conforms to the Mayor’s Healthy Chicago public health agenda, which includes developing medically accurate sexual health education in public schools, providing annual targeted education and screening around STIs to high school students, reducing the city’s teen birth rate, and reducing the rate of youths who experience teen dating violence.
It also follows proposals that have been introduced in the state Legislature that aim to modernize Illinois’ sex education law and create a standard for sexual health education courses.
As is the case under the current CPS policy, parents and guardians are able to opt out of having their children participate in the sexual health education instruction.
Studies show that implementation of this type of comprehensive education policy helps to reduce school-level incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment and positively impact rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among Chicago’s youth.
The proposed policy was developed by the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness (OSHW). Beginning last June, OSHW collaborated with various stakeholder groups to provide recommendations and feedback in the policy’s development. Among the participants were Mikva Challenge, Chicago Department of Public Health, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, University of Illinois Chicago, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and CPS high school students.
The proposed policy envisions a three-year implementation. Year 1 focuses on training of instructors; Year 2 continues training, monitors implementation of the policy and provides schools and instructors with technical assistance and support through OSHW; and Year 3 sees two trained instructors at each school and full implementation of the policy across the District.
Chicago Public Schools serves 403,000 students in 681 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.